What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: this is the message that permeates the newly published book by world-renowned writer Bernardine Evaristo. Manifesto: On never giving up highlights how she overcame the barriers of racism and misogyny, charting the highs and lows of not only her career but her life as a mixed-race woman of Anglo/Nigerian heritage, born in 1959 in Eltham, growing up in Woolwich, South East London, one of eight children, living in a very noisy, busy and loving household.
As a British writer, Bernadine Evaristo made history in 2019 at the age of 60 when she became the first Black woman to win the Booker Prize for her novel, Girl, Woman, Other, which changed her life overnight. She wasn’t an overnight success, but she was propelled onto the world stage as a bestselling novelist, winning other major plaudits including fiction book of the year and author of the year at the British Book Awards in 2020, and the Indie Book Award for fiction.
After writing for more than three decades, and publishing eight books of fiction, verse fiction and numerous articles, she finally received the recognition she deserved – even if it did take a long time. In her introduction to Manifesto she reveals what it took to keep going and growing, staying true to herself and her principles, and arriving at her current success. Manifesto is a no-holds-barred account of her creative life to date – and the barriers and challenges it took to gain literary success.
Her first work of non-fiction, Manifesto traces her life from humble beginnings to world renowned author. The book explores the themes of history, heritage and ancestry, what it means to be Black and a woman, it tackles racism and perseverance, is wickedly funny describing her sexuality and sexual conquests with both boyfriends and girlfriends, but it also talks about her confidence and strong sense of resilience, her bloody-mindedness and unapologetic belief about who she is and what she was able to achieve, through her lifelong positive affirmations.
Evaristo has been a teacher/advocate/activist for social and racial justice within the arts. Growing up without privilege or connections in a political household, her father a local Labour councillor, she become interested in the arts after attending Greenwich Young People’s Theatre, now Tramshed.
But writing wasn’t her first love, it was acting and drama, becoming interested in the arts after completing a three-year community arts course at Rose Bruford college, where she learnt to create theatre and develop her writing skills – years, she says, that were the making of her feminist identity. The course was also formational in her identity as a Black woman.
Evaristo has used her new-found fame as a force for good; she is working with Penguin in a new project, “Black Britain: Writing Back”, rediscovering works by Black writers about Black Britain and the diaspora, providing Black British perspectives.
A rallying cry, Manifesto is an inspirational read for anyone who has a dream of doing something that their class and background does not fit – it’s about perseverance and never giving up.